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Volume 577: debated on Tuesday 18 March 2014

On 13 March 2014, the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 received Royal Assent. This Act addresses the gap that sees 50,000 short-sentenced prisoners—those most likely to reoffend—released on to the streets each year with no support, by providing those offenders with supervision in the community for the first time in recent history.

The Minister will be aware that a major reducing reoffending conference was held in Winchester earlier this month, organised by the high sheriff of Hampshire and the police and crime commissioner. Does he agree that although we must bring short-term persistent offenders into supervision, as we are doing, we must also invest heavily in treatment and give sentencers some real options if the system is to work? That has been done, and successfully, in the Right on Crime initiative in Texas.

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is important that we give flexibility to rehabilitation providers to do what they believe will work in turning someone away from crime. He is right that if someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, giving them the treatment that they require will help in that task. He will also recognise that for those with a mental health problem, it is better to divert them from the criminal justice system in the first place, and that is what we seek to do.

At my surgery on Friday, I met John who has just been released from prison after serving 20 years for murder. He wants to turn away from crime and do well in our society, but he needs a job. Is it not important that we look at this matter as a cross-departmental issue to get people back into a life where they do well and are really productive?

My hon. Friend is right that more than one Government Department needs to turn their attention to this. Of course he will know that we have allowed for changes to be made so that people can have access to the Work programme as soon as they come out of custody. As he says, it is important that all Government Departments work together with us on the rehabilitation agenda, as they have so far.

Reducing reoffending is something on which Justice Ministers right across the United Kingdom are working vigorously. Will the Minister ensure that discussions take place across the devolved regions to ensure that best practice is replicated right across the entire nation?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that working together to share best practice is important, and we will certainly seek to do that. There are good examples of rehabilitation to be found across the United Kingdom.

At the heart of the Government’s reforms is the large-scale tendering of services. Does the grotesque debacle of the electronic tagging contract with Buddi not demonstrate that the Minister’s Government is incapable of managing this process efficiently? This is yet another contract where the competition has been ended. A Ministry of Justice statement says that it has had to retender the contract for the supply of new tags.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I do not agree with the way the hon. Gentleman has represented the situation. The position is this. We will work with a preferred bidder to try to ensure that our needs are met and that we can reach agreement in delivering what will be impressive new technology to help us keep better track of offenders. If we cannot reach agreement with a preferred bidder, we must move on to another provider, and that is what is happening here. Four lots are involved in this particular process. On three of them, things are working as well as we could possibly have expected. In relation to the fourth, there are difficulties, but we are resolving them. What I hope the hon. Gentleman will welcome is the use of the technology.

21. Given that one in four prisoners has a mental health problem, I welcome the news that the Government are providing £25 million to host mental health nurses in police stations. Will the Minister outline how the progress of that pilot scheme is being monitored? (903114)

My hon. Friend is right that the scheme operates from more than one Government Department. It is important that we work together with our colleagues in the Health Department to deliver what he is describing. We will monitor that progress, as will the Health Department. It will be monitored across Government because we want people with mental health problems to be diverted from the criminal justice system.

Under the transforming rehabilitation reform programme, there will be 21 contract package areas but 12 reducing to 10 women’s prisons, so not every area will have a women’s prison, but every area will receive women when they are released from prison. What arrangements will be in place to ensure continuity of support through the gate when a woman returns to a different area from the prison in which she has been incarcerated?

The hon. Lady is of course right that there are fewer female prisons than there are contract package areas, but that is in many ways a good thing because it means that we have fewer women to incarcerate. She is right that we need to think about how the new system will work. The way we will do that is to ensure that rehabilitation providers have the opportunity to be located in a prison. It may not be a prison located within their own contract package area, but they will have a presence so that everyone coming through the custodial system and being released out of it will have the opportunity to speak to a rehabilitation provider and to make the necessary connections while in custody.